Building or Destroying Team Spirit: did Christian Horner make the right decision for Red Bull Racing?
July 12, 2010
I think Christian Horner is one of the best Team Principals we have seen for some time in F1, but even he is having his work cut out to try and damp down the increasingly problematic relationship between the two Red Bull Racing Drivers, something which the media are having a field day in trying to flare up further. The one issue that effects a driver more than any other is the belief that their team mate is getting preferential equipment. After he had taken over the Brabham team in 1972 Bernie Ecclestone had to solve a problem where his two drivers, then Graham Hill and Carlos Reutemann, both believed the other was getting a more powerful version of the Cosworth engine, so Mr E. resolved the debate in his own inimitable style – he tossed a coin for each race and got the drivers to call as to who got which engine – problem solved! However, in the F1 of today the incessant rate of development, and lack of testing opportunities means that situations often arise when hard decisions have to be made as to who gets what. Christian Horner’s challenge could not, unfortunately, be solved by tossing a coin.
Red Bull Racing had come to Silverstone with two new specification front wings, one of these failed during practice when it was fitted to Vettel’s car, meaning that only one new wing was available for two competitive drivers and cars for qualifying and then the race, when no further changes are allowed to be made. Christian Horner was therefore left with three options, 1) replace Vettel’s broken wing with a ‘old spec’ wing and keep Webber’s car fitted with the new one. 2) swop the wings giving Vettel the top spec wing and replacing Webber’s with an old spec one or 3) replace Webber’s new spec wing with an old wing so that both drivers had equal equipment. McLaren boss, Martin Whitmarsh, who never misses an opportunity to pour oil on a troubled rival (remember his interview on the BBC after the Red Bull driver collision in Istanbul?) was very clear on the McLaren position as quoted by James Allen on his site, http://www.jamesallenonf1.com: “I think if you are in a very strong position then even more cause to be as fair as you are with the drivers, the cohesiveness of the team is such that you don’t need to set up those kinds of tensions and if you are in a strong position you need to be careful to hold it together.” So he goes for option 3 then – the team harmony choice, although, to be honest, I’m not sure Mark Webber would have seen it that way. I would have thought the Webber would have gone for number one – the ‘keep things as they are’ choice – using the ‘it’s on my car so leave it there’ logic. This would have kept Adrian Newey happy, he would have felt that the McLaren option would have lost the chance for the wing to be tried out in race conditions, and given the lack of opportunities to test such components this was an imperative for continuing to improve the performance of the car. So Christian had to make a decision and he decided for Option 2, which pretty much made Webber incandescent and led him to comment that he would have not re-signed his contract for 2011 if he’d known he would have been treated thus. However I suspect Webber would have been just as unhappy if he’d been forced to run an old wing for the sake of fairness, and this would have meant RBR would have lost a valuable opportunity to run the new wing. So in the end we have an unhappy Webber who dominated the British Grand Prix and underlined the supremecy of the Red Bull, we have a team who now have more data on their new wing and who have now set a clear and explicit basis for priority – whoever is leading in the drivers’ championship, and of course this is now Mark Webber, so maybe things will calm down sooner than the press would like. On balance I think Christian made a good decision and perhaps most importantly, he made it openly and defended in openly, and as long as he now sticks to this, team spirit in RBR may just be saved.
The final point however is that it is two McLaren, not Red Bull, drivers who are now leading the championship, and if we look back to 2007 we may recall how Kimi Raikkonen took the world championship from the feuding Hamilton and Alonso. We are now just over half way, with nine races remaining, if RBR aren’t able to resolve these tensions in a productive way then this could be another year in which internal competition got the better of collaboration and destroyed team performance.